Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Potential game changer: PG&E could alter California telecom landscape


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An application by Pacific Gas & Electric to the California Public Utilities Commission to become a wholesale operator of fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure could be game changer in California where many customer premises nominally in the service territory of AT&T lack landline Internet connections or are limited to slow first generation DSL service over deteriorating copper cable plant.

PG&E’s vast 70,000 square mile northern and central California electric service territory overlaps regions of the Golden State where telecom infrastructure deficiencies are most prevalent: in and around the Central Valley municipalities of Modesto and Fresno, in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and northeast of the state capital of Sacramento in Placer and El Dorado counties and up the Interstate 5 corridor in Sutter, Butte and Yuba counties to the Shasta County seat of Redding in far northern part of the state. In addition to AT&T, PG&E’s electric service territory encompasses the telecom service territories of Frontier, Consolidated Communications and Citizens Telecommunications Company of California. All of these telcos could be customers of PG&E’s planned wholesale fiber as well as mobile wireless operators seeking backhaul bandwidth.

If approved by regulators, PG&E’s application could also attract new players who would like to provide fiber-based premise telecommunications service in areas lacking robust landline connections but can’t make the numbers work due to the high cost of building new fiber infrastructure and deploying field equipment. Having PG&E build it and lease it to them as competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) would solve that problem. PG&E would also be spared considerable deployment expense and delay since it owns utility poles that would provide the backbone for aerial fiber plant, the optimal infrastructure architecture to serve such a large and geographically diverse area, much of it with rugged terrain.

PG&E’s move holds the potential promise of universal service for northern and central California, which for many years has been a crazy quilt checkerboard of served, undeserved and unserved areas, leaving many consumers to struggle with substandard, poor value dialup, legacy DSL, fixed and mobile wireless and satellite service.

For more background on PG&E’s application, Steve Blum’s Blog has more details here and here.

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